It's often said that smell is the strongest sense tied to memory. I don't doubt this theory, but when I think back, many of my earliest memories are inextricably tied to the sense of sound -- and the music that surrounded me at the time. Anyone who knows my parents and the era that I grew up in knows that a huge portion of the soundtrack to my early childhood came from none other than Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and the late, great Phife Dawg. Millions of fans around the world in and outside of the hip hop community have been dealing with the recent loss of Phife, and many have shared their condolences on social media. I never met Phife, so I cannot share a personal experience with him, nor am I a big user of social media in sad times like these, but there is no doubt that my life was greatly impacted and shaped by his art.
I was born September 25th, 1991, just one day after A Tribe Called Quest released what is arguably their best album -- the classic, ever-so quotable, The Low End Theory. The thick basslines of Excursions and Buggin Out are some of the first notes that I can remember hearing while sitting in the back seat of my dad's tan, '89 Corolla, with the license plate that read 'Stretch.' Growing up, my parents and close friends used to joke that I knew all of the words to every rap song that came on the radio. I can say without a doubt that the very first rap verse that I could recite by heart (and still can to this day) begins with the line: "Microphone check one, two what is this?!" Phife Dawg's energy was infectious when his youthful voice jumped through the rear speakers of my dad's car.
Although I was too young to understand the context of most of Phife's content as a youngster riding around with my dad, it was that energy and his easy approach that ingrained his verses into my long-term memory and truly convinced me at 4 years old that riding on the train with no dough, does indeed suck.
Back in those days, I was an only child, looking to my relatively young father as an example for just about everything -- how to be cool, how to play basketball, what music to listen to, how to walk, talk, dress, as a strong, confident black man. In those times when it was just the us two in the car, I can remember asking him to pretend that instead of my dad, he was my big brother, and I was his little brother. Most of the time he would say, "Ok" and not do anything differently. But he didn't have to. We would just sit there, bobbing our heads to "Check the Rhime," and I would try my hardest not to grin from ear to ear as he rapped along and substituted "Tip" and "Phife" with our names.
In the twenty or so years since the days of the Stretch mobile, there has not been a time where I've heard a Tribe song, especially a Phife Dawg verse, and not thought of my dad, and that tan Corolla. And I don't think there ever will be. So thanks Phife, for always bringing the energy, the one liners, and your one-of-a-kind charisma to the mic on every verse -- and for making me and my dad that much tighter. As long as the two of us are around with access to some speakers, your voice and your stories will never die. Rest in Power, Fam.
Bardo is a Chicago-based songwriter, musician and producer who grew up in the U.S., Japan and Europe. Follow him on Twitter @mr_bardo and on instagram @whereisbardo. Check out his newest projects at whereisbardo.com.